Lawsuit challenges tax perks available to America's pastors

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  • SAS Sandy, UT
    Oct. 29, 2018 12:40 p.m.

    I think the article made the point clearly: there are certainly some cases where employer-provided housing is essential to the jobs of religious leaders--just as there are some cases where employer-provided housing is essential to the jobs of university presidents, oilfield workers, and others.

    The problem is that those other workers have to demonstrate that need, while religious leaders get a free pass, just because they're religious.

  • DHuber Palmyra, NY
    Oct. 27, 2018 4:00 p.m.

    Many others recieve housing. In various locations prison guards, road crews, fish hatchery workers, and some hospitals have Doctor apartments onsite.

  • Lilly Munster , 00
    Oct. 26, 2018 9:01 p.m.

    No American taxpayer should get special privileges that others do not get. If we want to reward the most important people to contribute to our Nation, give the tax exemption to Public School Teachers. They do not engage in religious partisanship. They take no part in the discrimination rampant in religious institutions. Churches and clergy already eat at the trough of public subsidies.

  • RedShirt USS Enterprise, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 4:19 p.m.

    To "Yaquina132" you, and many others like you, are ignoring all of the ways that religious institutions save the government money.

    For example, if having a church leader get a deduction for his residence so that he can counsel or hold other meetings there, and the result of those meetings saves the government more money in welfare and entitlement programs than what it costs for his deduction, wouldn't that be a good thing?

    I also hate to tell you this, but allowing tax deductions is not supporting something. If the government was giving money to them, then you would have a case, but they are not.

  • Pepe the Frog Kekistan, 00
    Oct. 23, 2018 3:50 p.m.

    @The Atheist - Provo, UT "Religious leaders should not get an exemption. It's that simple."

    ------------------

    Religious leaders should get an exemption. It's that simple.

    See how easy that was? Seems leftists never want to debate, only force their beliefs on others by imperial dictate. To quote C. S. Lewis in Suprised by Joy:

    "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

  • Yaquina132 Adair Village, OR
    Oct. 23, 2018 3:40 p.m.

    Government should treat all equally: no one should be taxed to support religious beliefs they do not share. Thus government must be neutral on the matter of belief. The US was formed as a secular government, deriving its authority not on a deity, but from "We the people." Separation of government and religion, along with freedom of belief, are central to our Constitution.

    The Center for Inquiry has stated: “It defies reason to claim that requiring ministers to obey the same rules as other employees could be seen as discriminatory, It is hard to see how the government could send a clearer message of endorsement than the grant of billions of dollars of tax benefits to ministers of the gospel alone.

    “For every extra $111 a month that a minister can reduce his tax bill, secular employees must pay an extra $111 a month in taxes for the government to break even. This tax break to religion is therefore, in a very real sense, a tax increase on secular individuals. The parsonage exemption … violates Thomas Jefferson’s stricture that ‘no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever.’”

  • NeifyT Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 3:35 p.m.

    "Many of us could argue that we need to live close to our place of employment,"

    That is beside the point. The point of the tax breaks isn't just so pastors can live close by; or even because they use their home for their work.

    The point of the tax break is that in the US tax code; religion is considered a worthy charitable cause in an of itself. So, the tax breaks are to encourage a religious society (doesn't matter what religion); because our nation has found that religious societies are a benefit overall to our social constructs.

    The incentive might allow pastors to live close to the churches they serve in; it may even allow them to use their personal house for religious activities. But it is the religious activities themselves that are being encouraged via tax break benefits.

    The government can do one of three things with its policies and governance; 1) encourage activity, 2) remain neutral regarding an activity, 3) discourage an activity.

    I know atheists want nothing more than the government to be neutral regarding all religion. But the First Amendment is NOT neutral; it encourages religious practice--because that benefits society--and thus, so does the US government.

  • RedShirt USS Enterprise, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 1:53 p.m.

    To "my_two_cents_worth" look at their funding. They get lots of money from the Tides Foundation, George Soros, the Ford Foundation, along with many other militant leftist groups.

    They always say to follow the money, and when we do for them, look at who we find.

  • jeclar2006 Oceanside, CA
    Oct. 23, 2018 1:47 p.m.

    RedShirt - USS Enterprise, UT
    ---
    To "The Atheist" ok, if this goes against the establishment clause, tell us, what religion does this promote?
    ---

    The point of the court case is that employees of certain non-profit/tax exempt organizations that have the label of Religion, have a certain advantage over those employees of non-profit/tax exempt organizations that don't have such a label.

    The worker/self employed who has a home office has to jump through hoops justifying the home office. This is not required for an employee designated 'minister' in some religious organization.

    What the state uses to determine what is the religion a minister belongs to, in order to obtain the exemption, is 'establishing' a religion or a broad class of religions, but is an establishment act, contrary to the Constitution.

    We see words such as 'house of prayer', or 'house of worship', and so those features define a class of religious expression, and people with religious beliefs which do not include such features, are excluded from state recognition of their religious experience.

    The multi decade battle between the IRS and the Church of Scientology centers on the question of what defines a religion.

  • Karen R. Houston, TX
    Oct. 23, 2018 1:47 p.m.

    @ jsf

    "What is your evidence for declaring an absolute conviction of total moral certainty in the invalidated belief by individuals in their faith based belief in religion?"

    I would answer your question if I had said this. But what I said was:

    "Clergy once held a much higher place of importance when virtually no one questioned religion's validity because we didn't know enough yet. This isn't the case any longer."

    In other words, we now know enough to forward plausible alternatives (and legitimate challenges) to religious claims. I think you read into it the rest of what you heard. But I think everything I said is factual. If you believe it isn't, I'm happy to hear your argument.

    Re: "total moral certainty": Why is this a sign of great virtue in believers, but something to take offense at in others?

  • my_two_cents_worth university place, WA
    Oct. 23, 2018 1:29 p.m.

    @RedShirt

    “To "my_two_cents_worth" it isn't an assumption, it is fact that the FFRF is a liberal group.”

    I read and reread your post and couldn’t find that fact posted.

  • David Centerville, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 1:19 p.m.

    I do not believe the establishment clause meant to exclude religion from all influence upon government. Rather, the clause was meant to not establish one religion over another as a state sponsored or favored religion. There are individuals and groups, however, who wage war against all religion, who strive to morph the establishment clause to exclude all religious influence from the public place.

    The last line in this article is revealing€”the real goal is tapping into religious coffers for money. There are some who fail to understand the unequaled service and strength that religion and churches provide our culture and communities. They want to tax religions and position government as the central power of all things. They view government not in its limited, Constituitonal role, but in a progressive, socialized, centralized position with all powers.

  • RedShirt USS Enterprise, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 1:03 p.m.

    To "The Atheist" ok, if this goes against the establishment clause, tell us, what religion does this promote? A Jewish Rabbi can get the same break as a Buddhist, or catholic, or baptist, or any other religious group, if anything it shows that this tax break was written in compliance with the establishment clause.

    To "Karen R. " if the FFRF people would like to benefit from this tax break, they can do so by organizing themselves as a religion. Other atheist groups have been able to be declared a religion, so why not them if they want that tax break?

    To "my_two_cents_worth" it isn't an assumption, it is fact that the FFRF is a liberal group.

    To "Middle of the road Mormon" but what about the benefits that government receives from religion? Governments don't have to spend as much on mental health and welfare thanks to churches. There is also a health and job benefit from belonging to a religion. Should governments reimburse churches for those expenses?

  • David Centerville, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 12:53 p.m.

    I do not believe the establishment clause meant to exclude religion from all influence upon government. Rather, the clause was meant to not establish one religion over another as a state sponsored or favored religion. There are individuals and groups, however, who wage war against all religion, who strive to morph the establishment clause to exclude all religious influence from the public place.

    The last line in this article is revealing—the real goal is tapping into religious coffers for money. There are some who fail to understand the unequaled service and strength that religion and churches provide our culture and communities. They want to tax religions and position government as the central power of all things. They view government not in its limited, Constituitonal role, but in a progressive, socialized, centralized position with all powers. Perhaps they also hope to justify their own lack of faith and religion by hurting those that have and exercise faith.

  • jsf Centerville, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 12:22 p.m.

    Interesting question Karen. I do not know. But what he did say is "the left is fueled by all kinds of ideological error … fueled by a conviction, an absolute conviction of total moral certainty." In your comment you stated no one questioned religion's validity because we didn't know enough yet."

    This was not a statement about your faith in an atheistic belief but, rather the statement of your conviction of moral certainty. Similar to what was said about the lefts claims. I really do not recall any atheists that are politically conservative claiming with absolute conviction the invalidity of others religious beliefs. But you could provide me with some names.

    What is your evidence for declaring an absolute conviction of total moral certainty in the invalidated belief by individuals in their faith based belief in religion? What is knowing enough? And are you sure you know enough now as opposed to when we will know enough then?

  • jeclar2006 Oceanside, CA
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:50 a.m.

    Mind Baggage - Bentonville, AR
    --
    For all of you in support of raising taxes on churches--

    Do you believe in the separation of church and state?

    If so, then religions should not be taxed in any way.
    ---

    There is no proposal to tax religion. Various religious groups organize their business activities as corporation, and as such, are state defined, licensed, monitored, and controlled.

    Income to such business activities can be taxed on excess of allowed deductions. The state can define what sort of corporations can file for tax exempt status. Currently there are religious and non-religious non-profit organizations which can be exempted from various types of taxes.

    This has nothing to with limited people from gathering to gather, developing a form of worship, beliefs, and practice in the least.

  • Thomas Jefferson Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:49 a.m.

    @jsf

    Cool...some guy says something.

    And I say the same thing about the religion that is todays fake conservatism.

  • jsf Centerville, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:43 a.m.

    "if a Church caught on fire, they would expect the fire department to respond. If they are vandalized they expect the police to investigate. "

    A church is an association of single independent individuals, that combine to create a church. Those individuals pay the taxes to support those common services. As such they can request the services for their combined benefit to protect their combined assets. We do not tax school properties or entities that are commonly owned by the community either. Yet we expect the protective services of the government. In Salt Lake Valley there are a number of independent school districts owning their own properties. Each of them expects protection from interagency organizations. Should each district be required to pay the corresponding tax liability?

    It is amazing the illogical application of reason at the mere mention of the word religion.

  • jeclar2006 Oceanside, CA
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:41 a.m.

    Thomas Jefferson - Salt Lake City, UT
    ---
    Like any business, I think that churches should have to pay taxes on all their profits (pun not intended but then made me laugh) that arent used specifically for actual charity. And I dont think building yourself a new gold plated clubhouse is charity. If a church simply cant make it without paying taxes then perhaps it should disband...or pray for more money.
    ---

    The issue discussed in the Article is not whether a church as an incorporated business entity will pay taxes, but whether employees, aka ministers, will have to declare as part of their income, housing allowances, or if the house is provided, a fair market value for the rent of such a house.

    The objection is to a blanket policy, in law, which allows a minister to avoid including any housing compensation in their income. Ordinary workers will, depending, have to declare such as part of their compensation, and pay taxes accordingly.

    One of the major tax benefits religious organizations receive is the tax exemption on property owned by the corporation, provided the property use meets certain requirements.

  • shamrock Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:39 a.m.

    @NoNamesAccepted wrote: "Notice they are not suggesting others should get the same benefits enjoyed by clergy, they are just trying to hurt churches."

    You might want to read the article more carefully, NoNames. This group asked the court to rule that ALL employees should be treated using the same religion-neutral criteria, and that's what the district judge did. For example, the Foundation argued that their director also needed housing that was close to her office, for the same reasons that a church would want its pastor to have such housing.

    Wanting equal treatment under the law is not "anti-religion." Our state and federal constitutions don't say that believers should have more rights than non-believers, but that the government can't discriminate against or favor religion.

  • Karen R. Houston, TX
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:29 a.m.

    @ jsf

    What does Michael Rectenwald say about atheists that are politically conservative?

  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:23 a.m.

    Organized incorporated religious churches are competitive capitalist business the same as competing auto industries or any other capitalist institution and therefore churches should be taxed the same as any other competing corporation equally and justly.

  • jeclar2006 Oceanside, CA
    Oct. 23, 2018 11:21 a.m.

    NoNamesAccepted - St. George, UT
    ---
    Since all churches and their clergy qualify, this has nothing to do with establishing any religion. A wiccan priestess has the same benefit as a Catholic or Protestant priest, Jewish Rabbi, Muslim Iman, or any other professional clergy.
    ---

    Utah spent some amount of effort to effect legislation to limit religion in the case of the Universal Life Church, by enacting laws disallowing ordination by mail or internet.

    These laws were struck down by the courts.

    In the case of tax law, and IRS regulations, various churches have had to fight for their organization to be declared a 'religion'.

    So it is not true that this issue has nothing do do with establishing a religion, the state, whether local, state, or federal levels, have all attempted to 'define' religion in various ways.

    I really wish Utah schools taught Mormon history better. It would then be clear how the government works its way into defining religion.

    The IRS regulations further define what is a religion for the purposes of tax or tax exempt status, which is a subtle method of establishing a religion.

  • Middle of the road Mormon South Jordan, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 10:43 a.m.

    Non-profits, including religious ones should pay some taxes.

    While I would propose we continue to allow individuals to write off any contributions they make to a Church, non-profit, or charity I would like to see non-profits pay property taxes.

    Non-profits, including Churches, benefit from roads, schools, the fire department, the police, etc...

    Allowing the members to write off taxes, then letting non-profits own land that receives a benefit from the society at large tax free is just not fair.

    Separation of Church and state does not mean no taxes period. For instance if a Church caught on fire, they would expect the fire department to respond. If they are vandalized they expect the police to investigate. Many of their members receive education at taxpayer expense to they can go get a good job and pay 10% to that Church.

  • jsf Centerville, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 10:31 a.m.

    "Clergy once held a much higher place of importance when virtually no one questioned religion's validity because we didn't know enough yet."

    Michael Rectenwald, a New York University professor and former Marxist said the left is “fueled by all kinds of ideological error … fueled by a conviction, an absolute conviction of total moral certainty — and that’s what’s scary. When people believe they’re absolutely morally superior and are certain that they’re absolutely right, they become like Antifa,” he added.”

    So in the vien of elitist leftist ideology, "We now know enough."

  • Mind Baggage Bentonville, AR
    Oct. 23, 2018 10:02 a.m.

    For all of you in support of raising taxes on churches--

    Do you believe in the separation of church and state?

    If so, then religions should not be taxed in any way. That is true separation. Atheists can't have it both ways. Tax them here, but not let citizens pray in schools, erect crosses, etc. there.

    You need to pick. And getting the IRS involved in religion is definitely not separation and clearly runs afoul of the 1st amendment.

  • my_two_cents_worth university place, WA
    Oct. 23, 2018 9:58 a.m.

    @NoNamesAccepted

    “So these liberals want to raise taxes on clergy?”

    Why do you assume FFRF is liberal?

    “The same guys who want to soak the rich and protect the poor want to raise taxes on clergy?”

    Where do you think Jesus would stand on this?

  • Not-in-Utah-anymore , CA
    Oct. 23, 2018 9:34 a.m.

    I support the tax benefits religious organizations receive. If you want to look at the tax code, virtually nothing is "fair" (childish as that argument is). Is it "fair" that one person gets to deduct interest on a mortgage while the renter gets no deduction? What about charitable contributions? The reason for these things is that society has decided that certain behaviors, such as purchasing a home, giving to charities, and having children benefits society as a whole. If we take away such exemptions to charitable organizations, those things they are doing need to be picked up by government agencies. Does anyone really thing the government is more efficient at doing things than people who are doing them because they strongly believe in them?

  • ECR Burke, VA
    Oct. 23, 2018 9:33 a.m.

    1 Timothy 3:2-3

    2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

    3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre

  • The Atheist Provo, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 8:14 a.m.

    Religious leaders should not get an exemption. It's that simple.

  • Thomas Jefferson Salt Lake City, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 8:03 a.m.

    "the blanket exemption prevents unlawful government entanglement with religious institutions. Without it, IRS workers would have to figure out how often pastors host Bible studies or write their sermons from home, determining how vital a house is to a church's religious mission, Goodrich said."

    Thats fine with me. Prove it if you want that tax break.

    "About two months after she and her husband moved in, they hosted an open house for congregation members. Members of the community chatted, shared snacks and drank wine, forming the connections that come to define a house of worship."
    "As the Rev. Rupp's recent party and future plans illustrate, a minister's home often becomes an extension of the church"

    So you had a party two months after you moved in? Well then you certainly deserve a tax break.
    What a weak argument.

    Like any business, I think that churches should have to pay taxes on all their profits (pun not intended but then made me laugh) that arent used specifically for actual charity. And I dont think building yourself a new gold plated clubhouse is charity. If a church simply cant make it without paying taxes then perhaps it should disband...or pray for more money.

  • The Atheist Provo, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 8:03 a.m.

    I support the challenge from the Freedom From Religion Foundation on this one. Giving religious leaders housing tax exemptions is a form of an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

    Separate religion from government and vice versa.

  • appdancer murfreesboro, rutherford co., TN
    Oct. 23, 2018 7:51 a.m.

    "Historically" teachers' salaries are "very low" as well, so give them the same break!!! At a time when most U.S. citizens practice no faith regularly, it's time for things like this to end like other parts of the tax laws that are archaic.

  • Karen R. Houston, TX
    Oct. 23, 2018 7:01 a.m.

    The issue is that clergy are automatically exempted, just like military. But the two aren't similar. Military are publicly-funded and serve all of the public. Religions are private charitable institutions, just like Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), and serve their supporters and others ultimately in furtherance of their own mission. All that FFRF is saying is that, for this reason, granting the automatic exemption for religious 501(3)(c)'s, but not other types of 501(3)(c)'s, is favoring religion over non-religion.

    I think likening religious service to military service arises from a view present in our culture in the past. Clergy once held a much higher place of importance when virtually no one questioned religion's validity because we didn't know enough yet. This isn't the case any longer. (The most recent example is in Ireland, where the Catholic Church has lost tremendous influence over the populace.)

    So there is no longer the default assumption that clergy are necessarily working for all of us. Like FFRF staff, they are now more accurately seen as working for and solely in the interests of their employer.

  • SME Bountiful, UT
    Oct. 23, 2018 6:40 a.m.

    Ms. Gaylor claims that she lives close to the foundation's office so she's able to respond quickly to emergencies. I struggle to see an emergency the Freedom from Religion organization might have compared a an emergency a religious leader could have. I don't see anyone committing suicide for example, because Ms. Gaylor isn't able to get to them quickly.
    If the issue is really that people aren't paying their fair share of taxes how can you justify University presidents getting housing without being taxed on it. I'm sure most university presidents make more than clergy. The houses are probably nicer as well.
    This is just a contrived situation to attack religion by those who don't like it.

  • Karen R. Houston, TX
    Oct. 23, 2018 6:17 a.m.

    The issue is that clergy are automatically exempted, just like military. But the two aren't similar. Military are publicly-funded and serve all of the public. Religions are private charitable institutions, just like Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), and serve their supporters and others ultimately in furtherance of their own mission. All that FFRF is saying is that, for this reason, granting the automatic exemption for religious 501(3)(c)'s, but not other types of 501(3)(c)'s, is favoring religion over non-religion.

    I think likening religious service to military service arises from a view present in our culture in the past. Clergy once held a much higher place of importance when virtually no one questioned religion's validity because we didn't know enough yet. This isn't the case any longer. (The most recent example is in Ireland, where the Catholic Church has lost tremendous influence over the populace.)

    So there is no longer the default assumption that clergy are necessarily working for all of us. Like FFRF staff, they are now more accurately seen as working for and solely in the interests of their employer.

  • NoNamesAccepted St. George, UT
    Oct. 22, 2018 11:06 p.m.

    So these liberals want to raise taxes on clergy? The same guys who want to soak the rich and protect the poor want to raise taxes on clergy?

    This is nothing but anti religious hatred. Notice they are not suggesting others should get the same benefits enjoyed by clergy, they are just trying to hurt churches.

    Since all churches and their clergy qualify, this has nothing to do with establishing any religion. A wiccan priestess has the same benefit as a Catholic or Protestant priest, Jewish Rabbi, Muslim Iman, or any other professional clergy.

    Notably, very few LDS clergy can use this benefit as most LDS are not paid. I'd expect this benefits mission and temple presidents, and a few general authorities who are provided housing. Virtually all would qualify without question under non church tax rules. But for many other churches, this could be a real burden.

    The power to tax is the power to destroy and there are those who want destroy religion.